Turkish journalist charged over secret documents from Sledgehammer case

New York, March 4, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Turkish authorities to release Mehmet Baransu, a columnist and correspondent for the privately-owned daily newspaper Taraf, who has been charged with obtaining secret documents and held in custody since March 1, according to news reports.

Police searched Baransu’s house in Istanbul on March 1 and detained him in connection with documents he received from an unidentified source in 2010, according to news reports. The documents were the basis for a widely reported investigation and trial related to an alleged military coup plot known as Sledgehammer.

Sercan Sakallı, the lawyer for Baransu, told CPJ a court order has branded the investigation secret and Baransu’s defense team does not yet know what evidence the prosecution has against him. He added that authorities have focused on a specific document titled “The Sovereign Action Plan” that was part of a packet of documents Baransu shared with prosecutors in 2010. That document, the lawyer said, was never made public, and authorities did not previously question the reporter’s possession of a classified document.

Baransu was taken to Istanbul’s Metris Prison on March 2, according to news reports. No trial date has been set yet, Sakallı told CPJ. If convicted, Baransu faces up to eight years in prison, according to Turkey’s penal code.

“A journalist’s job is to report on developments in the public interest, and it is absurd that a journalist should be prosecuted for obtaining documents–which in any case were shared with authorities,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Turkish authorities to immediately release Mehmet Baransu from custody and drop all charges against him.”

Taraf was the first paper to report on the purported coup, based on the documents obtained by Baransu according to reports. Baransu also shared the documents he received from the source with Turkish prosecutors in 2010 according to Taraf and other reports. According to police interrogation documents reviewed by CPJ, Baransu never revealed his source.

On March 3, Taraf‘s founding editor Ahmet Altan defended Baransu in an op-ed published by the daily Cumhuriyet. “Since when have coup plans been classified as ‘documents related to state security’ and ‘state knowledge that needs to be kept classified?'” wrote Altan. “I am the person who published the [Sledgehammer] story, the one who decided it needed to be published, the one who didn’t doubt for a moment that Sledgehammer was a coup plot.”

The case against Baransu comes amid increasing tension between the Turkish ruling party, the AKP, and its once-ally-turned-foe, the Gülen movement, an organization tied to U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. The AKP backed Sledgehammer prosecutions several years ago but has since backtracked, blaming the Gülen movement with fabricating evidence, news reports said. In June, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ordered the release of more than 230 military officers, previously imprisoned in the case, according to reports.